9th October 2020
By Rehan Piracha
An estimated 930,000 additional children are expected to drop out from primary and secondary schools in Pakistan as parents’ incomes drop due to the COVID-19 pandemic, a World Bank report has warned.
Pakistan could expect the highest school dropouts globally due to the COVID-19 crisis, according to the key findings of the report on “Learning losses in Pakistan due to COVID closures”. Given that 22 million children are already out of school, this represents an increase of almost 4.2 percent, the report adds. The report says the estimate is based on the observed income elasticity of education for various socio-economic quintiles and on the June 2020 growth estimates for Pakistan, which were estimated to be -4.4 percent. The report points out that girls may drop out at particularly high rates.
“Income elasticity in Pakistan is high for two main reasons, (1) high poverty levels, which lead families to push their children into labor or marriage from an early age, and (2) the cost of private schooling in which 38 percent of school-going children aged six to ten were enrolled before the crisis (PSLM 2018/19),” the report says in its key findings.
Loss in learning from 0.3 and 0.8 years
The report says school closures during the pandemic will result in an estimated loss of between 0.3 and 0.8 years of schooling for the average student. Currently children spend 9.1 years in school on average, but they only accumulate 5.1 years of learning due to the low quality of the school system.
Learning poverty will go up to 79 percent
The report warns that the country’s learning poverty, defined as the share of children who do not learn to read and understand a simple text by the age of ten, will increase from 75 percent to 79 percent. Learning poverty is calculated as the simple addition of the share of children out of school and the share of children who do not learn to read by age ten even if they are attending school.
Opportunities of remote-learning not accessible for all
The report says Pakistan has put in place an impressive infrastructure to support remote learning, but remote learning was not accessible to everyone.
The report cites an ongoing telephone survey in Punjab according to which only 30 percent of households are aware of remote learning opportunities.
“The figure of families where children actually make use of remote learning is much lower. Only one in three families who know about remote learning actually use remote learning, ” the report says.
The report called for the government to begin an enrollment drive and provide financial assistance to parents to encourage enrollment and re-enrollment of children. The report urged that student assessments should be undertaken to gauge the loss in learning. The government should improve access to remote learning by expanding connectivity, provision of cell phones to parents and students, and by ensuring families know when remote learning programming is available on television, the report adds.
‘Too early to gauge dropouts’
However, educationist Baela Raza is cautious about the figures presented by the World Bank. She hopes that numbers of school dropouts will be much lower than the predicted estimate of 930,000 children, because of the resilience shown by parents, teachers and activists during school closures. Raza explains that since primary and secondary schools reopened only two weeks ago, the education authorities are yet to collect data on students who dropped out.
Raza says that during the lockdown from March to August, the provincial governments should have been more pro-active in encouraging teachers to approach students through remote learning or to plan on how to bridge the learning loss of their students. She remains hopeful that students, teachers and parents will work together to keep the loss in learning of students to as minimum as possible.